Anthony Mackie & Zoe Chao Uplift Charming Sci-Fi Rom-Com [SXSW]
Mar 24, 2023
Romantic comedies haven’t quite disappeared, and indie filmmakers are coming up with fresh angles to tell such stories, breathing new life into the genre. Director Kristian Mercado and screenwriter Angela Bourassa know what’s up when it comes to rejuvenating romance, taking it to space in the utterly charming and lovely If You Were the Last. The sci-fi romance gets creative with its space aesthetic and its relationship dynamics, delivering a thoughtful, tender, and humorous romance filled with great banter and fabulous chemistry from the film’s leads.
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Jane (Zoe Chao) and Adam (Anthony Mackie) are astronauts who wind up stuck between Saturn and Jupiter for three years after their spaceship’s system malfunctioned and left them stranded. Their ship has everything they need to survive — oxygen, food, and each other. Jane and Adam have a daily routine; she tries to figure out what went wrong with the ship’s wiring, while Adam looks after the plants and goat, experimenting with a marijuana plant and blueberries. They laugh together, banter, and do plenty of dancing, keeping each other company for years with no hope they will ever be found. However, when Adam suggests he and Jane should have sex, they debate the pros and cons of such a big change to their friendship.
If You Were the Last is endlessly hopeful despite two-thirds of it existing in a place that is anything but. Adam and Jane have the occasional morbid conversation, but their banter is mostly lighthearted. The film could have easily become grim, especially with the amount of time Jane and Adam have been in space on their own. Luckily, Mercado and Bourassa imbue the story with enough spirit and heart to keep the characters’ hopeless circumstances at bay. They manage to find clever ways to keep the characters — and the audience, by extension — entertained despite the setting. A key shift in the film’s final act also gives the story a refreshing new direction that proves game-changing for Adam and Jane, especially as it delves into the consequences of their decision and of being away from Earth for so long.
Aside from the sheer creativity of the film’s set design and take on being stuck on a small ship in space, If You Were the Last has an incredible amount of charm. Adam and Jane’s endless banter is fantastic, and there are unique situations that show how deep their bond is. Mackie and Chao are wonderful together, and their chemistry is palpable, a mixture of maudlin and tender, sexy and fun. Their connection is well-developed and the actors excel in their roles, leaning into the playful bond between Adam and Jane, the sexual tension that builds over the course of the film, and the friendship at the core of their dynamic.
If You Were the Last isn’t afraid to tinker with well-known romance tropes, giving audiences a refreshing take on the best-friends-to-lovers trope, and even adding a situation that puts the characters in a shared bed. Such tropes are wonderfully handled in a way that doesn’t feel forced. And even when it seems as though the friends-to-lovers alone in space appeal will wear off, the sci-fi romance sends the characters into an unexpected situation in the third act that not only brings some tension, but alters their relationship due to their new circumstances.
All told, Mercado’s film never grows stale, and there’s enough charisma, tenderness, and laughs to drive the story to a lovely conclusion. If You Were the Last is an imaginative sci-fi romance that is sure to make one smile and laugh out loud. It’s heartwarming, genuinely funny, and elevated by wonderful performances that are engaging and magnetic. There is a lot of love put into the making of this film and it shows in every single scene. It’s one of the best romantic comedies in a while, and not one to miss.
If You Were the Last premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival on March 11. The film is 89 minutes long and not yet rated.
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